Syd Barrett, the psychedelic pioneer who was Pink Floyd’s original frontman but spent the final 35 years of his life in near-total seclusion, has died, according to a spokesperson for the band. He was 60.
The spokesperson — who declined to give her name — would not confirm when or where Barrett died nor would she speculate on the cause of his death, saying only that he died peacefully and that his family is planning a small, intimate funeral. Various media outlets are reporting Barrett passed away Friday at his home in Cambridge, England; he had also suffered from diabetes for many years.
The members of Pink Floyd’s best-known lineup — David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright — released a statement on Tuesday (July 11), saying they were ”very upset and sad to learn of Syd Barrett’s death.”
”Syd was the guiding light of the early band lineup and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire,” their statement read.
Barrett (real name: Roger Keith Barrett) co-founded Floyd with bassist Roger Waters in 1965, and, like many British groups of the era, the band was initially inspired by American blues and R&B artists. But within two years, they began to stretch that material out, incorporating feedback and other guitar trickery into long passages of their songs, and adding psychedelic light shows to their frenetic live sets, which they dubbed “happenings.”
The result of all that experimentation was Pink Floyd’s first album, the alternately spacey and dense The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Featuring 11 songs — 10 of which were written by Barrett — the 1967 album was lauded by the British press for its compelling mix of complexity and childlike wonder.
But it was during a subsequent U.S. tour in support of the album that Barrett began to show signs of instability, oftentimes standing motionless onstage or noodling away at material that had little, if anything, to do with the music the band was playing at the time. Pink Floyd cut that tour short, hoping that time off the road would help Barrett recover; they enlisted guitarist David Gilmour and operated for a time as a quintet. But over the next few months, Barrett suffered a breakdown and left the band (though he does appear on a couple of tracks on their second album, 1968′s A Saucerful of Secrets.)
He re-emerged in 1970 with a pair of fragile and frantic solo records, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, both of which were produced by Gilmour. Neither album proved to be a commercial success, though they did earn Barrett a large cult following that continues to sing his praises loudly to this day, in particular David Bowie (who covered Barrett’s “See Emily Play” in 1973), British psycho-folkie Robyn Hitchcock and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.
The albums would be the last pieces of music Barrett would ever release, although a collection of radio sessions and an outtakes compilation called Opel were released during the 1980s. He would all but disappear from the public eye, giving his last interview in 1971 and living quietly at his Cambridge home, turning away fans and journalists who arrived at his door.
He turned up unannounced at Floyd’s recording sessions for 1975′s Wish You Were Here, overweight and with his eyebrows shaved, offering to contribute to the album; his erstwhile bandmates didn’t recognize him at first. He ultimately did not appear on the LP, although its “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is about him and the album is dedicated to him.
Last year, when Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Wright reunited in London’s Hyde Park for Live 8 (see “Jay-Z, U2, Madonna, Pink Floyd Deliver Live 8 Highlights” ), Waters dedicated an acoustic version of “Wish” to Barrett.
“It’s quite emotional standing up here with these guys,” he said as the Hyde Park crowd began to cheer. “We’re doing this for everyone who’s not here. And particularly, of course, for Syd.”